Opinion / Letters to the Editor / Our Readers Write:
As a resident of La Jolla for the past seven years, I have been able to experience first-hand the way that its urban form has enabled and discouraged me from travel by foot and bike around its downtown footprint. After a study abroad program in central Europe dedicated to gaining an understanding of its sustainable development initiatives, I returned with ideas for how to apply some of the practices from those cities to La Jolla’s downtown area. Specifically, I believe it would serve the community extremely well to transform Girard Avenue into a pedestrian street.
By rerouting cars around the heart of La Jolla’s economic center, it would allow for pedestrians and bicyclists to reclaim the area and connect this main shopping and restaurant district to the La Jolla Cove.
The concept of converting this avenue into a pedestrian path would be similar to Copenhagen’s Strøget Street, which is the longest pedestrian dedicated street in the world.
Strøget is lined with multi-purpose buildings, not unlike Girard Avenue is today. While on a smaller scale, Girard serves as a central market for La Jolla similar to Strøget. Nyhavn, a canal and restaurant district that serves as the postcard image of Copenhagen, is only a block away from Strøget, similar to the proximity of the La Jolla Cove to Girard. Transforming the connection between Girard and the Cove in the same way that Copenhagen has connected Strøget to Nyhavn could create an entirely walkable and even more financially successful city center.
The diagram pictured demonstrates my vision of the walking street. This path is currently dominated by cars, creating traffic while being a small and inefficient road to connect major parts of La Jolla. If this space were transformed into a pedestrian street, then it could move many more people through this area safely and encourage locals to walk to the small businesses that line the street. This path would be a manageable size to transition to a pedestrian street while covering an area that effectively connects La Jolla’s shopping district to the Cove, the most desirable beachfront tourist attraction in La Jolla.
La Jolla already closes Girard to traffic and creates a pedestrian street for successful events such as the La Jolla Art & Wine Festival and the Concours d’Elegance. By examining these events, La Jolla could draw conclusions about the probable success of a pedestrian street project like the one I have described.
Furthermore, a walking street would create a safer community. From experience walking to school every day across a dangerous street and seeing our elderly community navigating the busy streets of La Jolla, I see that pedestrian safety in La Jolla needs improvement. By creating walkable nodes within downtown La Jolla, residents of all ages would have a safe place to go while providing tourists with a focal point for their activities.
Girard Avenue today is used primarily as a thoroughfare and for parking, not necessarily as a safe, walkable path to travel through La Jolla. In order to leave La Jolla or go to the coast, most residents avoid Girard unless they absolutely need to go there. This creates an opportunity for this central street to become a pedestrian street without compromising major arteries of roads and connecting pathways. With the volume of visitors to La Jolla, the community would benefit from an increase in walking and bicycling. By removing parking spaces in our downtown area, people traveling short distances by car would be discouraged from doing so. This would eventually eliminate some of the vehicular congestion in the downtown area and could result in La Jolla becoming a destination for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The younger community in La Jolla, especially the students and young families, as well as the large elderly population would benefit from safe transportation alternatives to cars. While San Diego at large is an extremely car dependent region, La Jolla and smaller coastal communities could avoid the congestion of San Diego highways and major roadways by putting the community’s pedestrians and bicyclists first. Other U.S. cities, such as Charlottesville, VA, and Boulder, CO, have already transformed certain major shopping and restaurant areas into pedestrian streets which are highly successful. Adopting such a plan in La Jolla would better connect its downtown with surrounding residential areas, such as Bird Rock, and reduce the number of commutes done by car, creating a more sustainable and safe community.
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